Two suspects detained over effigies dressed as IDF soldiers
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Two suspects detained over effigies dressed as IDF soldiers

Against backdrop of Knesset dispute over military exemption for ultra-Orthodox students, police question the pair on suspicion of incitement against military conscription

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

File: An effigy of an ultra-Orthodox soldier seized by police in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem on Purim, March 2, 2018 (Israel Police)
File: An effigy of an ultra-Orthodox soldier seized by police in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem on Purim, March 2, 2018 (Israel Police)

Two Jerusalem residents were detained for questioning Sunday on suspicion that they incited against military conscription by hanging effigies dressed as IDF soldiers on three occasions.

In at least one of the incidents, the effigy was drenched in flammable liquid.

The effigies were hung from buildings in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman lambasted ultra-Orthodox politicians for failing to denounce the hanging and near-burning of the effigies.

Tensions are high in the Haredi population over legislation being pushed by the community’s lawmakers to exempt religious seminary students from compulsory military service that has threatened to fell the government.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have conditioned their approval of the 2019 budget on passage of an exemption bill, Liberman has vowed to quash any such legislation, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) has threatened to quit the coalition and bring the government down if the budget is not passed within the next two weeks.

On Friday, during the Jewish festival of Purim in Jerusalem, officers were booed and jeered at by a crowd on the street as they removed one of the life-sized, uniformed dolls, police said.

“Police removed an effigy of a soldier from a building in the Mea Shearim neighborhood,” a police statement said. “A preliminary investigation found that it was saturated with flammable liquid, apparently with the intent of setting it on fire.”

A few hours later officers took down a second effigy that had been hung up nearby.

In September 2017, an ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem man was arrested for burning an effigy of an IDF soldier during the Lag B’Omer festival earlier that year.

The issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment has been a contentious one in Israel, revolving around a decades-old debate as to whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying in yeshivas, or seminaries, should be called up for compulsory military service like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population. After reaching the age of 18, men must serve for 32 months and women for 24.

Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, who for decades enjoyed a blanket exemption from army service, oppose what they say is the IDF’s lax observance of Jewish laws. Recent attempts to cater to ultra-Orthodox recruits have been met with some success, but many ultra-Orthodox soldiers still face harassment, threats, and assault while on leave in Haredi neighborhoods.

Extremist ultra-Orthodox demonstrators protesting against the army draft, block the entrance to Jerusalem on November 26, 2017. (Flash90)

In September, the High Court of Justice threw out a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, on the grounds it undermined the principle of equality before the law.

The court suspended its decision for a year to allow for a new arrangement to be put in place, giving the government the option to pass a new law.

Liberman has rejected the right of the Orthodox parties to craft a bill on the subject, saying it is the responsibility of the Defense Ministry alone.

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